Written by Lisa Proffitt | 5th September 2019


MICHAEL GRAHAM MEETS: Graeme Hall - The Dogfather Interview

If you ever decide to add a dog to your family dynamic, you’ll want someone like Graeme Hall on speed dial. Known as “The Dogfather”, Graeme is one of the best dog trainers in the country and is famous for being able to train any dog, of any age with any problem.

best dog trainer in the uk Graeme Hall

Based in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, The Dogfather Graeme Hall travels all over the country helping people with puppy training, dog training and dog behaviour problems. Programme makers love him and we interrupted his filming schedule for the latest series of Dogs Behaving Very Badly to ask him a few puppy-focussed questions.

Is there an ideal age for a puppy to be taken from their mother? Some say before eight weeks can be damaging.

My top puppy training tips always start with this question. From personal experience, I’d say seven to eight weeks is ideal. I’ve had a puppy at seven weeks and he was fine. Much younger, and there’s a risk that they don't learn enough from mother. Leave it later, on the other hand, and you’re missing out on precious weeks for imprinting socialisation memories. It’s a sobering thought that many of the dog behaviour problems I help owners resolve in later life trace back to poor puppy socialisation.

What exactly is socialisation?

Great question! It’s so much more than being sociable with other dogs or people, although that’s an important part. Puppy socialisation is the process of teaching them what to expect in life. That includes what’s normal (and not) as well as how to behave nicely. Although it’s not safe to let them walk on the ground until their vaccinations are in force (check with your vet), it’s a good idea to take them out by carrying them or popping out for a brief trip in the car to see the world. Puppies need to experience a huge range of smells, sights and sounds. Top puppy tip: download a socialisation checklist from the internet as a start point and add things your puppy will experience in your specific environment.

Are some dog breeds easier to train than others?

Yes, and some individual puppies are trickier to train than others. There are surprises in store for first-time puppy owners: Labradors, famously easy going dogs in adult life, can be little devils as puppies. They grow out of it.

Should you start training your puppy as soon as you get them home?

I think so, yes. But with simple tasks such as puppy recall. One of my top puppy training tips is also the simplest: keep it short. Five minutes per session will do nicely to start with. A few sessions a day is fine, but make sure they’re purely positive. Short and sweet.

Have you a single top tip on how to reduce the stress on your puppy when settling him in his new home?

A little something with the scent of your puppy’s birth-home will ease the stress. A blanket to snuggle up in would be just perfect.

How soon can I expect my puppy to be house trained. Is it true they won’t soil their bedding in a crate overnight?

It varies hugely. Some puppies arrive from the breeders almost trained, but it’s rare. I wouldn’t be concerned if your puppy was four or five months old before they fully got it. You’re certainly not on your own if that’s the case. (But no one else will admit it).

Crates can help if your puppy was accustomed to one at the breeders – I’ve used them myself – but there’s no guarantee. A crate can be a lovely den, a sanctuary or a teenager’s bedroom, all provided your puppy has a positive association with it. It’s the association that’s important. It’s all too easy to get it wrong by putting a puppy in a crate for the first time, clanging closed the door, turning out the lights and hoping for the best. You’ll have created a scary dungeon and puppies often have toilet accidents when they get scared. That’s a pretty awful start to your puppy toilet training.

Do you advocate puppy training pads?

They can be handy in certain circumstances. Apartment living where there’s no direct access to a back garden springs to mind. In truth I don't use a lot of them but if you do, make sure you’re moving them towards the outside door over time to give your puppy a clue as to where you want them to go. Here’s my top puppy toilet training tip: Make sure you’re praising your puppy calmly at the precise moment they go to the toilet outdoors. ‘Calmly’ is the key here. Get over-excited, and they’ll stop in the act. Not good!

What are the first things I need to teach my puppy?

As soppy as it might sound, love. All you need is love, really, initially at least. Building a really great bond before you start training ‘proper’ sounds like common sense to me. It seems like a good excuse for cuddles too, doesn’t it? Go ahead!

How can you stop puppies jumping up?

For a start, don't encourage it. That’s harder than you might think. Puppies are cute, and human smiles are encouraging - an unfortunate combination. Try getting down to their level in the early stages.

My friend was advised to use food as a reward for her puppy’s behaviour, none in her bowl, just bits throughout the day. Do you agree?

I can see the logic but it does seem very harsh. Giving treats for rewarding good behaviour works well with puppies. Admittedly it only works if your puppy isn’t already full up after a meal, but (big but!) I’d draw the line at starving a puppy to get results. It’s not the Dogfather way.

Do you have a cute puppy picture you’d like to share? We’d love to see it. You can get in touch with us across all social media, on Facebook, Instagram and twitter, and for Michael Graham homes for sale or rent with plenty of space for a four-legged friend, check out the property search page on our website. For a one to one puppy training session with Graeme, call 0333 006 4055 for prices and details.

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